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  • Javier Coronel

Do we have free will or are we controlled by unconscious habits?

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

This is a book I initially read when I was in middle school and decided to re-read because of the impact it had on me. It was one of the first books I read that ignited my interest in psychology and resulted in me pursuing a degree in advertising. I felt that advertising/marketing was an avenue where I could not only better understand how people's minds work, but use them to support brands that deserve it. This book isn't just about professionalism though as this book is extremely insightful in general.

For example, the book explains the manner in which habits are formed and how they can be restructured. Often, people fail to change their habits because they try to change the entire system rather than a singular piece. By focusing on a single piece, you can slowly adjust to new versions of your current habits or get rid of them all together. An example they used that I absolutely loved was Pepsodent in the 1940s. During World War II, the United States was having extreme issues at drafting healthy men as their teeth were often in such poor condition that they were ineligible. They decided to talk to one of the most prominent advertisers at the time and request that he creates a campaign to make brushing teeth a daily activity. His belief was that a problem needed to be present and that a solution needed to provided by whatever item it was that was being advertised. For this reason, he decided to target the "film" that covers teeth, which in reality is normal and not an issue, to make claims that using Pepsodent would remove that disgusting film off of your teeth and make you more attractive to everyone. He didn't stop there however as he realized that in order for something to convert into a habit, there must be a reward. To some, the removal of this film was not enough so this is where they decided to include an ingredient in toothpaste that foams up to give off the feeling of the product working. In reality, the foaming serves no actual function but it was essential in creating this activity into a habit. The process he envisioned was essentially:

Real Problem: Men's teeth are extremely uncared for resulting in ineligibility to be drafted for the war.

"Created" Problem: The film on your teeth is unappealing to those around you so you must find a way to remove it.

Solution: Using Pepsodent products daily will prevent this film from covering your teeth.

Reward: The foaming ingredient gives the users a feeling that product is actually working.

Created habit: Believe instilled that film present on teeth is bad - Purchasing Pepsodent toothpaste will help you remove this film - using the product results in the reward of foaming so you know it's working

The results of this campaign were astonishing. Not only were men's dental hygiene improved enough to be drafted, but the habit was taken by society instilling it until this very day. I find it absolutely fascinating how understanding the human mind can result in an activity that is still happening daily decades later.

I recommend this book for anyone who wishes to better understand their minds and who seeks insight on how companies insert their products into the habits of people. I'm not sure if I had not read this book in middle school if I still would be on the trajectory that I am now but I am sure am glad Barnes and Noble had it on a display section.

Rather than letting our minds control us, lets understand our mind so we can co-exist with it.

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